Sometimes, all you get is one shot.
This was the lesson I learned frequently during the nearly 10 years that I worked crisis intervention inside the emergency room of a small, private hospital in downtown Indianapolis.
I learned that sometimes you only got one chance to save someone's life. You only got one chance to steer them into a different direction than the destructive path they were on.
Sometimes, you only got one chance to love them.
Mother's Day writer/director Travis Carlson has crafted a film wrapped entirely around this basic fact - that sometimes you only get one shot. In fact, Mother's Day is a low-budget work of wonder filmed in one continuous shot. This is no small feat for a just over two hour film, though the majority of the film does admittedly take place in one yard between two people - Wendy (Lisa Ludwig) and her son Jordon (Michael Charles Wagner).
Inspired by a true story, Mother's Day is both incredibly intimate and undeniably universal. Wendy is struggling with both mental illness and financial issues. She is contemplating yet another cross-country move. Unequivocally concerned about his mother's plans, Jordon realizes over the course of a raw, vulnerable conversation between he and his mother in her yard that he quite literally has only one shot to save his mother from this potentially deadly setback.
Two minds. Two hearts. One shot.
Winner of both Best of Fest and Best Actress - Narrative Feature prizes at the Queens World Film Festival in late 2021, Mother's Day is a passionate and raw mission-oriented film that practically defines what it means to be an independent film. While working with a low budget can be a hindrance for nearly any film, there are those occasions when such a challenge allows a film to develop a distinct, powerful voice precisely because it is forced to tell its story with no distractions.
Mother's Day is such a film.
There's also something powerful in watching two performances bringing their A-game to a project not because they'll be able to buy yet another vacation home with the paycheck but because they're actors and storytellers and because they believe in the project.
This is incredibly apparent in watching the exceptional work by both Lisa Ludwig and Michael Charles Wagner.
Lisa Ludwig is nothing short of extraordinary as Wendy, a slightly older woman who has clearly cycled through these thought processes before. She is both maddening yet endearing. It's understandable why her son grows weary in dealing with her, yet it's equally understanding why he so relentlessly continues to do so. Ludwig envelopes us in Wendy's challenges and makes us come face-to-face with them. This is truly an outstanding performance that brings to mind Krisha Fairchild's turn in the underrated Krisha. Stunningly, this is only the second film credit for Ludwig and the projects are 20 years apart. I know a myriad of experienced actresses who couldn't possibly tap into this level of raw emotion, honesty, and transparency.
As Jordon, Michael Charles Wagner faces the daunting challenge of holding his own against what is without question a showier role. Complex in his own ways, Jordon is a remarkable young man and Wagner beautifully brings him to life warts and all. Wagner's entire physical being embodies love and frustration, perseverance and so much more. I felt like I could have turned down the volume and understood his every word.
Aaron Rizzo's lensing for Mother's Day creative and inspired despite, or maybe because , of the challenge of shooting the entire film in one continuous shot. This could have so easily gone awry or felt like a gimmick, yet Rizzo manages to make it all feel incredibly natural and as if we're traveling this journey with Wendy and Jordon. The film's original music has multiple contributors yet it remains a cohesive, emotionally resonant contributor to the film's tapestry.
While Mother's Day is no doubt centered around Wendy and Jordon, the film's ensemble cast is strong down to the smallest roles and it's clear that everyone here fully understood Travis Carlson's vision for the film. There's not a weak link here and that really helps maintain the film's emotional impact.
Over the course of my 10 year career in mental health, I learned over and over and over again that sometimes you only get one shot and that every word, every gesture, and every action mattered. Mother's Day has an inherent understanding of this and as a result it is a film that will most definitely resonate with those who've experienced mental illness or the mental illness of a loved one. Mother's Day is at times a difficult film to watch precisely because Carlson's script values authenticity and refuses to compromise the truthfulness of this story. There's not a false note to be found here and I say this myself as a writer whose wife died by suicide.
This feels real and its devoid of histrionics or caricatures.
Mother's Day is in some ways a straightforward motion picture. However, it's in this straightforward approach that Mother's Day gains its authority and it's in this cast's trusting of the material that this becomes a film that soars emotionally on the wings of a terrific ensemble cast and a story that deserves to be and needs to be told.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic